Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reaching Postmodern Rural Communities - Part Three - The Rural Church as the Social Center of the Community

In my previous two posts I explained how technology has changed rural communities by bringing postmodern ideas and people into rural areas. These postmodern ideas are a challenge for the rural church. Those churches have typically enjoyed significant support from their community. Though postmodern people are interested in spirituality, they often do not think of the local church as the exclusive source of such spirituality. Rural churches often struggle to reach people who think differently than what they are used to. But rural churches can reach postmodern people by capitalizing on four reliable practices, each of which I will deal with in separate blog posts. The first of those practices is helping the church regain their place as the social center of the community.

The smaller the community the more likely that the rural church was once the social center of the community, which is a good historical reputation for a rural church. When I first moved to Vermont in 1993 I served as pastor of the Washington Baptist Church. It was a small rural church that was located in the middle of a village of 500 people. Though the church had dwindled down to less than 20 and had become less active, there had been a time when it was the social center of the community. Though that time had passed nearly three decades before I arrived, I discovered that many people in the community still thought of the church as the place that should be the social center of the community.

Our rural church began to host a variety of concerts, outdoor bar-b-ques and sports activities that helped the church regain their position as the place where exciting social events happened. The community responded positively to those efforts because in the collective consciousness of the community, the church had a long history of doing such events even though the church had not done them recently.

Rural churches should look for a variety of new ways to enhance the concept of the church as the social center of the community. This is going to require more than just having church services on Sunday. New people who move to an area are normally looking for connections with the community. Therefore these new people are prime candidates for the church to reach, even if they have a different worldview than the church. Regretfully, the church often never connects with those new people because they do not know how. Churches often make announcements in their church bulletin, but since new comers are not present to read those announcements, they are not very effective in encouraging new comers to take advantage of the social activities of the church.

The easiest way to connect with these new people is with the use of technology. Just as technology brought postmodern ideas and people to rural communities, churches can use that same technology to draw people to their social functions. Postmodern people who move into an area are typically more technological than the average American. This means they socialize and communicate more via electronic media than in person. To reach these people, rural churches must discover how to use Facebook, MySpace, text messaging, Web sites and other technological opportunities for promoting their social events. These types of technological gateways are often the "front door" that postmodern people come through. Having a church Web site is a must. Starting a Facebook page for your youth group or some other ministry is important. A church might consider collecting everyone's cell phone number so it can send out text message announcements about church events. There is not a single "easy" answer to connecting with new comers, but using technology to promote the church's social functions is a place to start.

A rural church that already has a wide variety of ongoing activities may continue to do many of the same activities and programs that they have always done, but they must learn to promote those programs and activities through the technological methods that postmodern people are accustomed. Churches must learn how to connect socially through technology if they want to attract all those new people in town to church. The historical memory of the church as the social center of the community gives the rural church an advantage, but in order to capitalize on that advantage, rural churches are going to have to discover how to use technology to attract and engage newcomers.

Will creating a website or Facebook page alone be the answer to connecting with postmodern people? Of course not, it is but one step in an ongoing effort to reach out. In my next three blog posts I will discuss three additional ways that churches can reach out to postmodern people who now live in rural communities.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Reaching Postmodern Rural Communities - Part Two - How Change in Rural Communities is Affecting the Church

In my previous blog post I discussed how technology has brought the world to rural communities. This has caused progressive ideas that are more typical of urban areas to now become more common in rural areas. Technology has also allowed people to move to rural areas who would not normally live there. How are these changes affecting the local church?

The influx of new people and new ideas into rural areas is rapidly transforming the rural mindset into a more postmodern way of thinking than what the rural church has been used to dealing with in the past. Postmodernism at its core is the idea that individuals have both the intelligence and the right to decide what truth is for themselves based on their own experiences and relationships without any objective external standards. Because most rural churches would see the Bible as objective truth, people with a postmodern mindset are not as supportive of the rural church as the rural community at large has traditionally been.

Though postmodernism is built on a person's individual experience and relationships, not on any type of absolute truth, many postmodern people are actually interested in learning about spirituality. They just may not be prepared to accept the church's traditional brand of spirituality the first time they hear it. Rural churches will have to work harder to reach these postmodern people. But postmodern people who live in rural areas can be reached because the Gospel is a powerful truth that penetrates even the hardest hearts!

But how should rural churches attempt to reach these postmodern people? Rural churches may be under the false impression that they must toss out everything they practice and believe and find some radical new way of doing church in order to reach the postmodern people who now populate their communities. While many rural churches may indeed need to examine some of their methods and programs in order to be more effective, they do not need to throw out everything and start over. With a few simple adjustments, there are a number of reliable practices that rural churches can continue doing. Four practices that are the easiest to modify and implement are: the church as the epicenter of the community socially, the church as the epicenter of the community ceremonially, the church as the epicenter of the community physically and the church as the epicenter of the community philosophically. I will discuss each of these four reliable practices in separate blogs posts over the next four days.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Reaching Postmodern Rural Communities - Part One - Rural Communities are Changing

In the stereotypical rural American community everyone knows everyone and there are lots of interpersonal connections through school, church, and community organizations. In those types of communities, it is common for many people to be related by blood or marriage to a significant portion of the local population. All the natives know the unofficial way of how things get done, which usually has a lot more to do with who you know than any official policies and procedures. Such communities are often more conservative than urban areas. Such communities are normally more respectful of religion in general, though not everyone goes to church. Such communities are normally more Caucasian than urban areas, have lower crime rates and frequently have a lower educational level than the national average. This is the stereotype many people have of rural American communities and, in the past, many aspects of that stereotype were probably accurate.

However, rural American communities are rapidly changing. Though the rural stereotypes can still be found, they are increasingly the minority culture in rural areas. As well-educated and socially active families have grown frustrated with urban life and disenchanted with suburban sprawl, they are increasingly moving to rural areas. Sometimes they are people who once lived in the area who have now moved back. But more often they are urbanites seeking to escape all the problems of urban living. With the advent of computer and Internet technology, urbanites can now live anywhere and still have the same income level they once had to live in the city to attain.

But it is not just the newcomers who are changing the nature of rural communities. The same technology that made it possible for outsiders to move in has also brought the outside world to rural communities. Rural teenagers can now be just as connected and up to date on music, clothing styles and philosophical concepts as their urban counterparts. Rural adults are now exposed to more progressive ideas and concepts than ever before and some of them are buying into these new ideas.

Rural areas have traditionally been the strongholds for religion and faith in American life. But how do these changes in the rural community impact the local church? I will address the impact of these cultural changes on the rural church in my next blog post.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Penetrating the Darkness

Earlier this week I attended a strategy planning meeting in Atlanta. The meeting was with various leaders from the denomination which I am a part. We were discussing ways to penetrate the spiritual darkness that pervades our land. At that meeting we heard the latest statistic, which is that 258,000,000 people in America do not have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

That huge number represents individual people who do not have the hope, joy, peace, comfort and strength that faith in Christ brings. From a theological perspective, we must penetrate this spiritual darkness and help these people discover faith so that they can experience eternal life. From a practical perspective, numerous studies have shown that people who have an active faith are happier people and more responsible members of the community. This means that from both a theological and practical perspective, if we want our nation to continue to be great, we must think of ways to engage that large portion of the population in a meaningful discussion of who Christ is and what part He plays in their lives.

The good news is that recent research shows that 70% of those people would be interested in having such a spiritual discussion if it were with a friend or relative who was living out their own faith in an authentic way. The two challenges that we Christians face are making sure we are living our faith in an authentic way and that we are courageous enough to share that faith with those who are close to us. They need the message we have to share. They are willing to listen. Are we willing to share?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Never Let Conflict Affect Our Mission

Preached by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett, pastor, Faith Community Church, Barre, VT

January 17, 2010

Scripture Passage: Acts 15:36-41

Verse 36 - After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, "Let's go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord, and see how they're doing."

  • Paul and Barnabas had come to Jerusalem in order to get advice about the controversy regarding legalism and grace. After clearing up that difficulty in favor of grace, they felt led to take a missionary trip.
  • The point of any missionary trip is to share the Gospel with others and encourage the believers who are already there. In this situation, Paul and Barnabas wanted to see how the churches were doing that they had helped start on their previous trip.
  • We must remember that it takes time to build relationships and learn how to minister effectively in any particular situation.

    Verse 37 - Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark.

  • As Paul and Barnabas prepared to go on this mission trip, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark along with them.
  • Barnabas was known for being a great encourager. In fact, he was one of the few people who encouraged Paul when he first became a Christian.
  • We all need great encouragers in our lives.
  • Barnabas thought that if he and Paul took John Mark with them on this mission trip, it would encourage John Mark to grow in his faith.
  • On the job training is one of the best ways to learn about our faith and grow in the Lord.
  • John Mark was Barnabas's younger cousin, so Barnabas was particularly interested in encouraging John Mark in his faith.

    Verse 38 - But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work.

  • Paul did not think it was a good idea to take John Mark along with them because on the last mission trip John Mark had quit half way through the trip and went home.
  • Sometimes we volunteer for things that we later realize are really not right for us.
  • But it is important to finish what we start and fulfill whatever commitments we have made.
  • When we fail to keep our commitments, it has lasting effects on our reputation and our usability for future endeavors.
  • The Greek word for "appropriate" actually means "worthy." Paul does not think John Mark is worthy of going on this trip because he was a quitter.
  • John Mark's reputation as a quitter robbed him of the joy of future service. Though he did eventually reunite with Paul, it was many years later. (2 Timothy 4:11)
  • Scholars take different sides in this argument.
  • Some say Paul was being harsh for not giving John Mark a second chance.
  • Others say Barnabas was overly influenced by the fact that John Mark was his relative.
  • In reality, both men probably let their emotions get in the way of clear thinking.

Verse 39 - There was such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus.

  • The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas was so sharp, they parted company.
  • The Greek word used for "disagreement" is also used through the New Testament to describe anger, irritation, and exasperation. It is also used to describe God's wrath at idolatry. It is a strong word.
  • Remember, these were two godly men who had served the Lord together for years and undergone significant hardships and difficulties together.
  • They were not only professional colleagues, they were also dear friends. Yet their friendship ended over this disagreement.
  • It is sad when Christians cannot resolve their differences and friendships end as a result.
  • Obviously we want to avoid this if at all possible, but sometimes we can't avoid it.
  • Regretfully, sometimes even godly people just have differences of opinion that cannot be overcome.
  • If we realize that we must end a relationship for irreconcilable differences, we must end it well and in a way that honors Christ.
  • Notice that Barnabas did not get so angry that he dropped out of church. Instead, he became more involved in missionary work.
  • When a relationship ends, we should not let it take us away from the Lord.
  • The goal of conflict resolution between Christians should always be to build up the Body of Christ, not to "win" or "be right."
  • Disagreements between Christians need not hurt the testimony of Christ if all the people involved keep the "big picture" of God's redemptive purposes in mind.
  • In this situation, Paul and Barnabas decided to each engage in different missionary efforts.
  • This resulted in two missions being launched instead of just one.
  • The missions were not in "competition" with each other because they went to two completely different places.
  • Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus, which was Barnabas's homeland and where Mark also had many relatives.
  • The Bible does not record the results of their efforts but church tradition says that Barnabas became the first Bishop of Salamis, his native city, where he was eventually martyred and was secretly buried by his cousin Mark.

    Verse 40 - Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers.

  • Paul chose Silas as his new assistant and they followed through on Paul's original plan to revisit all the places he had previously evangelized and started churches at.
  • Little is known of Silas other than he was a Roman citizen, which gave him certain rights that most Christians did not have, and that he had been active in reaching non-Jews for Christ.
  • Notice that Paul's trip was "commended" by the church.
  • This phrase was not used of Barnabas's effort.
  • This seems to indicate that the church supported Paul's efforts and perhaps did not support Barnabas's effort.
  • This does not mean that the church thought Paul was "right" and Barnabas was "wrong." It simply means that the church was not in a position to support every missionary cause and had to choose one of the two.
  • Churches often have to make difficult decisions about which missionary efforts to support. Such choices are a reality of limited time, energy and resources and not necessarily an indication that the church thinks a particular missionary effort is not worthy of support.
  • Paul's particular effort seemed to fit the church's overall mission efforts more than the trip Barnabas undertook, so they supported Paul's effort.

    Verse 41 - He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

  • As Paul traveled, his focus was to strengthen the churches. God has ordained the local church as the primary method through which He will reach the world for Christ.
  • Missionary efforts should be primarily focused on helping start and strengthen local churches similar to the ministry of Paul. This does not mean that other efforts are not important; it just means that local churches should be the focus.


  • Sometimes Christians have honest disagreements that they are unable to reconcile.
  • When such disagreements end a relationship, it must be done in a way that honors Christ.
  • A church, or individual, can only do so much, so we should find a cause and be faithful to it.
  • Our causes may differ from other good Christians and that okay so long as God is lifted up in whatever our cause is.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Idolatry of Tradition

A few months ago I visited a rapidly growing church in South Carolina that is primarily attracting young adults to their worship services. It was an exciting experience and I wrote about it in my blog the following week. That blog was recently published in the Baptist Courier, which is the official newspaper for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Though many in South Carolina read the article and rejoiced that God was doing such a powerful thing among young adults in their area, one pastor wrote to say he disagreed with my observations. Though I want to be careful not to judge my brother in Christ, his comments highlight what I see as a disturbing trend developing in some traditional churches. I call it "tradition idolatry."

When I refer to tradition idolatry what I mean is the tendency to assume that following one's religious traditions is that same thing as following God. Don't get me wrong, many cherished church traditions are very meaningful and it would be sad to see them neglected. But cherished traditions are not equal to Biblical mandates. Churches must never give up biblical mandates, but they may alter their traditions many times over the lifetime of a congregation.

After all, most traditions in churches were simply products of their time and were convenient ways to do things when they were developed. Times have changed but in many churches, the traditions remain. For example, many traditional churches have Sunday morning worship at 11 AM. That was a time that worked well for the farmers that made up many congregations when American culture was more agricultural oriented. But that particular time slot is not as convenient as it once was, yet the tradition remains in many churches. Churches that forget the point of worship, which is to honor and glorify God in spirit and in truth, and instead focus on the time slot are in danger of practicing tradition idolatry.

Perhaps the time slot is not important to some churches, but what about the instruments used in worship? Certain instruments were popular a generation ago, but different instruments may be popular today. The point is not the instruments themselves, but how those instruments are used to glorify God. More traditional churches may use a hymn book while less traditional churches may project the words on the wall. Both are products of the times and neither is mandated in Scripture. What congregations need to be taught is how to worship with a heart that is focused on God not on self. While traditions may have an allure of "godliness," they are often simply catered to "self" because we feel comfortable with our traditions. Sadly, when people choose to follow their traditions instead of following the Bible, the boundary of tradition idolatry has been crossed.

Churches that have begun to hold to their traditions more than to timeless Biblical principles cannot expect to be blessed by God. God has never blessed idolatry, nor will He ever bless it. Let us each examine our hearts to see where we are placing our trust. Is it in the traditions of men or in the Word of Truth?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Is Truth Still Truth If No One Knows It?

Years ago I remember having the most challenging philosophical discussion with a group of friends regarding whether a tree that falls in the woods when no one is around still makes noise when it falls. Looking back on that discussion, it does not seem nearly as important now as it did then. But that old conversation did come to my mind last night when the teen youth group at our church discussed the essence of truth.

The subject of the discussion was whether truth was still truth if no one knew it was the truth. Though I am sure that there were still differing opinions when the 69 teens who had gathered finally ended the discussion, it was clear that the vast majority agreed that truth is truth even if no one knows it. What was even more challenging in the discussion was how we should respond to truth once we become aware of it. We discussed how hard it is to accept the truth about ourselves, especially truth about our imperfections and problems. We also discussed the truth about Jesus.

Though it has become popular in our culture to deny the truth about Jesus, if what Jesus said about Himself is true, then it is true whether we choose to learn it, believe it, or follow it or not. Simply choosing not to learn, or not believe, or not follow the truth about Jesus in no way negates that reality of that truth. The bottom line is that truth is the truth and once we come to know it, we are responsible for doing something with that truth.

As we consider the essence of truth, we are left with two important questions to consider.

  1. What is the REAL TRUTH about ourselves and how will we respond to that truthful assessment of ourselves?
  2. What is the REAL TRUTH about Jesus and how will we respond to a truthful assessment of His life, His death and His teachings?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Grace or Legalism: Which is the Better Motivator for Christian Living?

Preached by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett, pastor, Faith Community Church, Barre, VT

January 10, 2010


Acts 15:1-11, 19
Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved!" 2 But after Paul and Barnabas had engaged them in serious argument and debate, they arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem concerning this controversy. 3 When they had been sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, explaining in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and they created great joy among all the brothers. 4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, the apostles, and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But some of the believers from the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!" 6 Then the apostles and the elders assembled to consider this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them: "Brothers, you are aware that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel message and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, testified to them by giving the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Why, then, are you now testing God by putting on the disciples' necks a yoke that neither our forefathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way they are." 19 Therefore, in my judgment, we should not cause difficulties for those who turn to God from among the Gentiles.

(Holman Christian Standard Version)


  • Verse 1 - Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved!"


  • To understand this passage of scripture, one must first understand the historical context in which it was written.
  • When the Christian church was first founded, almost the entire membership was made up of Jewish people who had lived under the Old Testament law.
  • One important part of the Old Testament law was that all Jewish males were circumcised as a sign of their commitment to God.
  • Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin from the penis of the male.
  • God could have chosen any sign to demonstrate such a commitment.
  • But I think we would all agree that in an time BEFORE pain medication, this particularly sign was not likely to be adopted by other groups and therefore stood out as a unique way to demonstrate commitment to one's faith.
  • It was also a sign that was permanent since the foreskin did not grow back.
  • Likewise, our own commitment to Christ is a lifelong commitment that we cannot turn back from.
  • As the New Testament church grew, more and more non-Jews became Christians.
  • Since the vast majority of these non-Jews had not been circumcised, some of the more traditional Jewish believers wanted to force them to go through this ritual.
  • It is important to note that it would not have been wrong to "suggest" such an action as a good way to "keep the peace" among brothers.
  • But when some teachers started saying circumcision was required for salvation, a real issue arose.
  • Many people falsely think that believers in the Old Testament were saved by following the law, but this is not true. People throughout time have ALWAYS been saved from sin and hell by grace through faith.


  • Read Romans 4:1-5.
  • Romans 4 clearly shows that Abraham, who founded the Jewish race and the religion that came with it, was justified by his FAITH, not by keeping the law.
  • The sole purpose of the Old Testament law was to demonstrate that we CANNOT possibly be "good enough" to earn our way to heaven. We clearly need GRACE.
  • Grace is the undeserved favor or blessing of God.


  • Read Galatians 3:24-25.
  • These verses clearly teach us that the law was a "school master" that taught us that we needed grace through faith instead of the law.


  • Though the Bible clearly teaches that we are saved from sin and hell by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, legalism has always been a problem in the church.
  • Legalism is a form of religious belief that says that in order to be a Christian; we must conform to some type of behavior or religious "LAW."
  • What confuses many people is that the Bible does teach that Christians should conform our behavior to the Bible in order to be godly.
  • How do we reconcile grace and the law?


  • The two key questions to ask are:
    WHEN does the conforming happen?
    WHY does the conforming happen?
  • Under the law, we attempt to conform BEFORE we believe in the hopes that belief will follow.
  • Under grace, we conform our behavior AFTER we believe as a RESULT of our new faith.
  • Under the law we never know if we conformed enough to be saved but under grace our salvation is secured from the start.
  • Under the law, we attempt to conform our behavior because we are trying to prove our worth, or make God happy, or check off our religious "to do" list.
  • Under grace, we attempt to conform our behavior because of our deep love for God and appreciation of what Christ did for us.


  • Law or Grace: Which is more effective in motivating Christian living?
  • An emphasis on the law often produces people who DO the right thing outwardly but have often missed the point inwardly.
  • The danger is that they will only do the "right thing" when people are watching.
  • Legalism leads to spiritual pride and judgmental attitudes.
  • Legalism is a powerful motivator in changing behavior, but is very unhealthy emotionally, spiritually and psychologically.
  • An emphasis on grace produces people who have set their heart on loving God even if all their behaviors do not yet match the level of their love.
  • Grace oriented people desire to do what is right even when no one is watching because it flows from their love for God.
  • Grace oriented people think of spirituality as a process of growing closer to the Lord and learning more about His love throughout life.
  • Law – oriented churches are normally filled with people who do many things "right" on the outside even if their hearts are still dirty.
  • Grace– oriented churches are normally filled with people who are doing their best to live right but are aware of their weaknesses.


  • Verse 2 - But after Paul and Barnabas had engaged them in serious argument and debate, they arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem concerning this controversy.


  • Notice that Paul and Barnabas engaged in serious argument and debate with the legalists.
  • Legalists are not interested in calm rational discussions. Legalists prefer to argue.


  • Verse 3 - When they had been sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, explaining in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and they created great joy among all the brothers.


  • While the legalists were focused on having arguments about the law, the grace oriented people were explaining to everyone how God was saving sinners.
  • People get excited when they hear that sinners are becoming Christians.


  • Verse 4 - When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, the apostles, and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.


  • When Paul and Barnabus arrived at the "mother church" in Jerusalem, they were welcomed because everyone was excited to hear about how lives were being changed.
  • But would that excitement translate into a new way of thinking for the mother church?


  • Verse 5 - But some of the believers from the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!"


  • The Pharisees were the most conservative group in Jewish life.
  • They had dedicated themselves not just to the Old Testament law, but also to their own traditions that they had made equal to the Old Testament law.
  • There are many modern day Pharisees who have added their own "laws" to what the Bible says about how we should live.
  • If a truth is in the Bible, Christians should seek to obey it, but if something is not in the Bible, we should not try to force that idea on others.
  • Verse 7 - . . . Peter stood up and said to them: "Brothers, you are aware that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel message and believe.


  • Peter was a key leader in the church.
  • Peter came from a traditional Jewish background so he had the respect of the Jewish believers.
  • But Peter had a supernatural revelation about how God wanted the non-Jews to follow Christ too. (Read Acts 10).
  • Therefore Peter also had the respect of those who were more committed to grace than the law.
  • Peter reminded everyone of how God was working to bring both groups to faith in Christ.
  • Peter was like a bridge between the two groups.
  • We need "bridge" people in the church that know how to connect the law-oriented people with the grace-oriented people and bring unity in the Spirit.
  • Who can be a "Peter" in our church and help bridge the law and grace?


  • Verses 8-9 - And God, who knows the heart, testified to them by giving the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.


  • God sees deeper than just our outward actions. God sees the heart.
  • The person who does the right thing with the wrong heart attitude is not fooling God.
  • The person who has a right heart toward God but is still struggling with certain behaviors can count on God's help. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  • God gives us the Holy Spirit to help us overcome our struggles and become better Christians. (John 14:15-18)
  • God cleanses our hearts even when our actions still disappoint Him. That is what grace is all about.
  • The danger of this kind of "grace" thinking is that someone may say, "I can live however I want to so long as my heart is right."
  • But if our heart is right, then we will want to live right. There is a difference between "struggling" with sin and "surrendering" to it.
  • People who live under grace still struggle with sin, but they have not surrendered to it. (Romans 6:1-18)


  • Verse 10 - Why, then, are you now testing God by putting on the disciples' necks a yoke that neither our forefathers nor we have been able to bear?


  • Even legalists cannot obey the ENTIRE law, no matter how hard they try.
  • Basically legalists are asking others to do what they are unable to do themselves.
  • How productive is that going to be in promoting spiritual growth?


  • Verse 11 - On the contrary, we believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way they are.


  • While some people may be better at keeping the law than others, we are all saved by grace through faith in Jesus.
  • There is a tendency to become more "law-oriented" the longer we are a Christian.
  • This happens because we begin to deal with our own junk and act better. Which is good, unless we forget what it is like to struggle?
  • Let us NEVER forget what it is like to struggle with sin.
  • Let us ALWAYS remember where we came from and what we once were.
  • As we remember these things, we will be more grace-oriented toward others who are still struggling with the damaging effects of sinful behavior.


  • Verse 19 - Therefore, in my judgment, we should not cause difficulties for those who turn to God from among the Gentiles.


  • Peter concluded his speech by suggesting that the church should not cause difficulties for those who are turning to God.
  • This does not mean that the church should be timid about discussing sinful behavior.
  • The church should speak clearly about sinful behavior, but also give people time to work on their issues in an atmosphere of grace.


  • Conclusion:
  • Churches are usually filled with people who are either law-oriented and or grace-oriented.
  • Grace-oriented churches will be healthier in the long run but require great patience to be a member of.
  • Law-oriented churches may look better on the surface but often have numerous heart issues hidden under the surface that never gets dealt with.
  • We should try to be grace-oriented as we grow in our faith and as we witness to others.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Music: The Language of Young Adults

The language of today's young adults is music. Churches that understand this new language will be able to effectively reach young adults. Many churches falsely think that if they just add drums or guitars to their worship services then they will automatically reach young people. While it is true that most young adults prefer music that is more upbeat than traditional Sunday morning hymns, just speeding up the tempo alone will not keep them coming to church.

The secret to communicating to young adults through music is to understand that young adults use music to express their emotions and communicate with those around them. They sing about their experiences and how those experiences make them feel. Young adults use music to communicate how they feel about themselves, other people, politics, nature, and even spiritual matters.

When it comes to spiritual matters, young adults prefer music that allows them to talk "to" God instead of just "about" God. Though they may prefer the music to be upbeat, what is more important to them is that the music is filled with spiritual passion. They want their music to be a conversation with the Living God, not just state theological facts about God. Those who think that modern Christian music is shallow fail to grasp the depth of adoration for God that wells up from deep within young Christian adults when they sing and play music to the Lord. Skeptics of modern Christian music run the risk of following the poor example of Micah, the wife of David, who despised his passion for worshipping the Lord in 2 Samuel 6.

Regardless of how comfortable we may be with our own religious traditions of the past, churches that desire to reach today's young adults must come to terms with the reality that music is a key factor in reaching them. If churches can learn to speak the same musical language as these young adults, we may be surprised just how many young adults will become committed to the church.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Resolutions that Matter

The old year has passed and today is the first day of 2010. Millions of people across America have already made many New Year's resolutions. Others will be making them in the next few days. This annual rite of passage is part of our American New Year's tradition.

While surfing the net earlier this week I found a website were some fellow in Philadelphia has compiled the top ten New Year's resolutions that people across the nation commonly make. I could relate to his list since my own list of personal resolutions included several of the same items there were on his top ten list, such as losing weight and exercising more. Most of those top ten resolutions were about various aspects of improving our own lives. And without question, they are things we should be working on to improve the quality of our own lives.

However, I gained a new perspective this morning while watching the news. The reporter interviewed a Catholic priest about how spirituality and faith impact our resolutions. The priest suggested that while making resolutions to improve our own lives is good, making resolutions to help improve the lives of others is even better. Taking our eyes off ourselves and focusing on helping others is a real spiritual milestone worth celebrating. Examples of helping others might include: volunteering at a soup kitchen, helping a single mom with child care, or asking for forgiveness from someone we have hurt in the past and who is still feeling bitter toward us. The priest explained that if we only make resolutions about ourselves, that even if we accomplish them all, we may still not feel much different in our inner self. But if we accomplish the resolutions we make to help others, not only will we feel better about ourselves, but we will also be in a closer relationship with God. Though I am not Catholic, I thought the priest had a great point.

As I was contemplating this, it occurred to me that there are a lot of people who may not have any type of spiritual relationship with God. It is going to be difficult for them to improve a relationship with God that does not yet exist. As they resolve to volunteer at a soup kitchen or help others in some other way, they may also need to resolve to start attending church, or read the Bible, or pray on a regular basis. Developing our personal spirituality is more than a "self-help" fad. It has deep implications for the quality of our lives and the quality of our communities. Obviously it has significant implications on our eternal state as well, but that is a subject for another blog!

In light of these thoughts, we may need to add a few items to our New Year's resolution list. It may take a little more time and effort to accomplish this longer list, but the results will be worth it.